Remembering Fiorentina's Davide Astori One Year on from His Tragic Death

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistMarch 4, 2019

B/R

The sun was shining upon the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence last Tuesday as supporters began to arrive. 

They came in small groups; men, women, children and elderly fans alike, entering the stand under the immense tower that dominates the landscape of the surrounding area. On the gate, stewards simply nodded and allowed everyone through, because for one day only, there were no tickets sold, no profit to be made and, in fact, no match to be played. 

Just 24 hours before their Coppa Italia semi-final against Atalanta, Fiorentina had decided to hold an open training session at their stadium and allow supporters to watch. The club's Ultras had responded with a large banner in their previous game that read "tutti allo stadio"—"everyone to the stadium"—and at least 3,000 supporters heeded that call. 

Once inside, they sang, clapped and cheered their team, but above all, they honoured the memory of former captain Davide Astori.

On March 4, 2018, the Italy international died in his sleep after a cardiac arrest at the age of just 31, a tragedy that deeply rocked Italian football

As the anniversary of that devastating loss approached, the supporters were determined to pay tribute to their fallen skipper.

"Tomorrow we are going to do an amazing celebration," Fiorentina supporter Claudio Galardini told Bleacher Report during that training session. "It's going to be a surprise, but I can tell you that it's going to involve the whole stadium. As you can hear, Davide Astori is the reason for us to be very strong in the match tomorrow."

As he spoke, the Ultras launched into a song that has been chanted at the 13th minute of every Fiorentina game of the last 12 months, with the captain remembered every time the clock shows his shirt number.

It has been followed by applause from opposition fans on each occasion, and the team were determined to use the energy it created to achieve tangible success. 

Midfielder Marco Benassi told Tuttosport that the players were desperate to win the Coppa Italia for Astori and to "try and ensure he is proud of us," with supporters looking to help them as they returned to the Franchi for the aforementioned semi-final clash.

Flags bearing their former captain's name and shirt number were in plentiful supply before kick-off, resulting in a wonderful display as the players took to the field. 

"We decided to remember Davide today because it is almost one year since his death," Associazione Tifosi Fiorentini member Marco told B/R. "For us, it's a very important event, we want to remember him in this match and we want to help Fiorentina to a great victory to remember our captain. 

"We would like to win the Coppa Italia so that we can give it to Davide," he continued. "At the training session, we wanted to help our players to feel strong so that they can give everything for him in the match."

They certainly tried, battling back from 0-2 down to earn a 3-3 draw that gives the Viola hope for the second leg on April 24, but this was a game that was about so much more than the final score.

"The Curva paid homage to a great person who is no longer here, but he is with us every Sunday, every Wednesday, every training session, every hour of every day," Federico Chiesa told RAI Sport (h/t Football Italia) as he left the pitch. "Davide is with us, he fights with us and we never give in, as we saw again today."

That sense of unity, of an unbreakable bond forged in the most tragic of circumstances, has been a constant theme for Fiorentina ever since Astori's death, with players and staff sharing countless examples of his importance to those he left behind.

"The lads and I have not yet recovered from this tragedy, because everything revolved around Davide," coach Stefano Pioli told Sky Italia during a tribute to the Italy international defender last week. "However, everything that happened made me not only a better coach, but a better man, too."

It is not just at Fiorentina where the loss was felt, either.

"This story of Davide, this human drama, teaches us that life should be lived with enthusiasm, with joy, appreciating everything that is given to us every day," Juventus boss Max Allegri—who coached Astori during their time at Cagliari—said later during the same show, while one of his current players went further still. 

"Sometimes I think of him when I play with my daughter, of the idea that unfortunately Vittoria, Davide's daughter, can not have that luck," said Bianconeri skipper Giorgio Chiellini. "It's something that touches me, because our girls were a frequent topic of conversation when we were with the national team, something that we had in common and tied us together even more."

The anniversary was celebrated and remembered this past weekend, with every Serie A game marked by applause in the 13th minute, starting with Friday evening's match at Cagliari.

Another of his former clubs, the Sardinian outfit joined Fiorentina in retiring the No. 13 shirt in Astori's honour, and midfielder Paolo Farago told Sky Italia that he "remains in everyone's memory" and that Davide "left many friends in Cagliari."

It speaks volumes about the man Astori was that the former skipper's anniversary halted arguably Italy's most passionate derby on Saturday. Players of both AS Roma and Lazio stopped to stand and applaud along with fans, officials and coaches at the Stadio Olimpico to pay their own tribute to his cherished and precious memory.

Yet nowhere was the pain felt more deeply than in his Tuscan home.

"The only way I can explain this to you is to say that, for Fiorentina fans and all the people in Florence, to have lost Davide, the captain, it's like losing a member of your own family, like a brother, a father, or a son," Fabio Bonetti—a Viola Ultra—told B/R.

"If you then add the respect for Davide and all that he represents; a good guy, a good player, a good opponent, a member of the national team, but most of all a young father, a young husband, a young son...now you can imagine!"

But, as they proved at the open training session, those supporters are holding Astori close but looking to the future, with his memory driving the young team he left behind to new heights. 

"Just as you would expect from any large family who has suddenly and tragically lost an important and much-loved member, the shock and initial disbelief took a long time to wear off," lifelong Fiorentina supporter and Italian football writer Chloe Beresford told B/R.

"People say that it takes a year and a day to fully comprehend a death of someone close to you, and Fiorentina supporters are nearing that anniversary by looking forward to a future with Davide proudly at the forefront of everyone's thoughts. 

"This young side are determined to achieve something tangible in order to dedicate it to their former captain, yet his legacy is everywhere you look in the Renaissance city. The example that Davide set for us all is alive and well in Florence, his purity and goodness a living and breathing force inside all of those who are close to the team. 

"Sometimes it's the most special and unique among us that leave us far too soon. Our job is to ensure that all they stood for continues to thrive and—having wiped away their tears—Fiorentina are honouring their cherished captain Davide Astori in the most poignant of ways."

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